Maine’s brewing revolution may have started in Portland with Gritty’s and Geary’s, but it quickly moved up the coast. In the first half of the ’90s, more than half of the breweries opened in the state were in the Midcoast or Downeast. The first of these was the Bar Harbor Brewing Company.
Like a lot of craft beer fans, Tod Foster was a homebrewer when he was a college student. The California native, like many beer fans before him, also had dreams of one day opening his own brewery. After meeting his wife, native Mainer Suzi Murphy, the couple moved from the craft beer hub of the Pacific Northwest to Bar Harbor, Maine. The high start-up cost for brewery equipment initially kept Tod from going after his dream. This changed in late 1989, when Foster came across an ad for a small, two-barrel start-up system. Suddenly, opening a brewery seemed a bit more affordable.
Tod started brewing, and his first account was Doug Maffucci’s New Old Lompoc Café. The Bar Harbor eatery, which served a few dozen bottled craft beers, started pouring Tod’s creations in 1990. The café was the testing ground for Foster’s first beer, Thunder Hole Ale. Looking to strike out on their own, Tod and Suzi built the Bar Harbor Brewing Company in the 150-square-foot basement of their home. Tod would brew the beer, and Suzi would handle the business side of things.
Growth was brisk enough that the brewery—and the Fosters—soon moved to a bigger space across town. The brewery remained in the Fosters’ basement, but the square footage more than quintupled. In 1994, Bar Harbor Brewing upgraded from a two-barrel to a four-barrel brewing system. In the following decade, Tod and Suzi kept the brewery’s growth restrained even as its reputation grew. In the late ’90s, as both Thunder Hole Ale and Cadillac Mountain Stout took home gold medals at the World Beer Championships, they remained difficult to find outside of coastal Maine.
In the subsequent years, the brewery changed hands a couple times. Ad executive and developer Evan Contorakes purchased the brewery from the Fosters in 2008, keeping the founders on as consultants. The purchase meant big changes for the brewery: Bar Harbor Brewing moved to downtown Bar Harbor, production increased and some of its more popular brews (Cadillac Stout, Thunder Hole and Harbor Lighthouse) were contract-brewed at Geary’s. The new arrangement didn’t last long—in early 2009, the brewery sold again. Since then, the outfit has been owned by its former cross-town competitors Atlantic Brewing Company. It’s a bit of a reunion—Doug Maffucci, whose café was the original home of Bar Harbor’s beer, owns Atlantic.
The new ownership has been good for the brewery. Bar Harbor’s beers are now easy to find on store shelves and on draft, and the company’s flagship brews have a taste much more faithful to their pre-Contorakes recipes.
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